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Countywide Panel Considers Economic Development District
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
04:45PM / Tuesday, February 05, 2013
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Sarah Hoecker presented a PowerPoint outlining the details of a proposed economic development district.

A countywide economic development district committee would include elected officials and representatives from labor, education, business and work force and economic development.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A group of business and civic leaders are hoping to increase the chance of projects getting federal Economic Development Administration funding.

An 18-member committee formed to create a countywide Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy is considering taking its work a step further.

The strategy allows developers to apply for EDA funding. Forming another operating group and designating portions of the county as "economic development districts," however, will greatly increase chances that projects in those zones get funding as well as provide about $70,000 a year to the new group for economic planning.

Sarah Hoecker, an intern with Berkshire Regional Planning Commission who presented to the CEDS committee on Tuesday, said it would require creating a new committee and approval from 17 of the county's 32 municipalities.

BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns said there are five other districts in the state and creating one here would reel in planning funds and money for maybe one project a year. Those dollars could be helpful — particularly if the proposed committee works in partnership with already operating economic development organizations.

"In [EDA] decision making, they definitely favor economic development districts," Karns said.

A countywide committee requires an intergovernmental agreement among the municipalities, that it be established under a state-recognized planning organization and be not for profit. The board must contain one representative from the private sector, at least 35 percent of its membership must be from labor groups, postsecondary education, the head of the local chamber of commerce or other workforce development group and the majority must be elected officials.

BRPC fits the intergovernmental agreement and state-recognized planning requirements and CEDs represents mostly private sector so neither of those could simply serve as that authority alone. But, Karns said a possible partnership with 1Berkshire could mesh those pieces together.

The district must include at least one area identified as "economically distressed," most of which are in North County. Having only one distressed area could increase the chances of funding for other zones because distressed areas already receive a boost in the decision making.

Exploring the possibilities of the district is one of the CEDS committee's goals for 2013. The committee had reformed in 2011 to create the strategy, which is awaiting final approval from the EDA.

That strategy identified and prioritized an array of projects across the county. The group will soon be seeking yet another solicitation process to update its plan. It will be reaching out to economic development agencies across the county to get updates on already identified projects as well as any new projects.

Toward the end of the year, it will have to prepare a performance report to EDA.

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